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Our Cabinet of Curiosities: Rec Rooms

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Image from Canadian Forest Products Ltd catalogue

The Marine Room

from Six Master-Designed Recreation Rooms

Published by Canadian Forest Products, Ltd. 1961

One of the best things about working in the Local History collection is the thrill of discovering some of the weird and wacky items we have. Every day brings a new discovery and I thought it might be interesting to share some of these finds with you. To that end, I am going to write a semi-regular feature for the next little while called the Cabinet of Curiosities.

We happened upon this little gem when we were looking for items to take to a Heritage Roundtable display that would feature heritage architecture. The definition of heritage is broad enough to embrace the mid-century period; but, I must admit, having grown up with mid-century modern, I’m not sure I want to preserve it – it’s mostly just a painful reminder of my awkward youth. This may be especially true of the so-called “recreation rooms” that many of our parents developed in the basements of our suburban bungalows. These “rec rooms” were often the scenes of boy-girl parties and other naughty behavior when mom and dad weren’t home. I had often wondered where on earth people had come up with the themes for these “rec rooms” and now I’ve found out. We found the catalogue Six Master-Designed Recreation Rooms from Canadian Forest Products (which explains the surfeit of wood paneling) from 1961. In addition to the photographs and artists illustrations of the various themes it also includes templates for the brands and barrel ends (A quote: “In days gone by, an Old World inn-keeper was accustomed to take his stance before an array of spigoted barrels from which he dispensed in pewter tankards the specialty of his hospitable taproom. The spirit of this pleasant custom is recaptured in the décor of the Tavern. Chapter Nine contains instructions for making the realistic barrel-ends…)

image from Canadian Forest Products catalogue

The Tavern

In addition to the Tavern theme, the catalogue includes a Western Room, complete with brands and lariats (see below) the Polynesian Room (perfect for the Polynesian luau recipes I found in my mom’s 1960s cookbook - Flaming Cabbage Head Weenies with Pu-Pu sauce anyone?) and The Marine Room (above), with knotty pine paneling. Neat-o!

Canadian Forest Products catalogue

The Polynesian Room

Instructions for building the furniture, hiding the hot water tank, laying the floor tiles and a selection of finishes are all included, making this the perfect book for those wanting to capture those magic moments of their childhood. (You can find it in the local history room, call number 643.55 SIX)

Canadian Forest Products catalogue

The Western Room ("as Western as the Calgary Stampede")

The Bow is Officially Open

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Judith Umbach Collection

The Big Pour - The Bow Building, 2008

Judith Umbach Photograph Collection

The Bow officially opened last week. It is a magnificent structure that has changed the Calgary skyline. A few weeks ago I wrote about Elveden House, a skyscraper built in the late 50’s and rising to a staggering 20 storeys. Prior to the bylaw change that allowed the building of Elveden House, buildings were limited to twelve storeys. The building of Elveden House marked Calgary’s coming-of-age. The Bow is another milestone. It is the tallest building west of Toronto and certainly one of the most beautiful skyscrapers in the country. I was able to watch its growth from a hole in the ground to its current glory. I must admit, having survived the recession of the 80s, as I passed the giant pit that was dug on the site of the old York Hotel, I was scared that this would be one of those vortices that constantly reminded us of our once great city. And as I understand from what I’ve read, this might have become a reality as we faced a similar economic downturn. But it didn’t and now we have The Bow.

The Bow is an appropriate symbol for our city. It is glitzy but functional, massive but beautiful. It is cutting edge architecture, as it is the first skyscraper in Canada to use a trussed tube construction. The building has already won an award, from the Canadian Institute of Steel Constructors for its innovative structure. The use of external rather than internal support allows for maximum floor space and the expanses of glass mean that nearly every office has a window and, more importantly, a view. Emporis included it, along with the Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur on its list of “most impressive corporate structures.” This kind of attention affirms Calgary as a city on the rise on the international scene.

Judith Umbach Collection

Curvature in Steel - The Bow, 2009

Judith Umbach Photograph Collection

Judith Umbach, a talented photographer and former Calgary Public Library Board chair, has documented the evolution of this magnificent structure, from the first shovels in the ground to its completion. She has donated (and continues to donate) her collection of photographs to the Calgary Public Library and they are all visible on the Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. You can view her photos of The Bow by clicking on the link above and searching for “bow building.” Take time to check out her other collections as well. She is documenting the development of this city by recording buildings coming and going and her work provides an unparalleled record of the living city. Judith’s dedication to Calgary and her passion for the city have been documented in a Calgary Herald article (May 31, 2013). Read about this great Calgarian here.

North West Travellers' Building with The Bow, under construction, in the background, 2009

Judith Umbach Photograph Collection

Judith Umbach Photograph Collection

Forgotten Landscapes: Heritage Roundtable

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

PC 1325

Fort Calgary in 1881

Postcards from the Past, PC 1325

 

The next Community Heritage Roundtable will take place on Thursday, June 13 at Fort Calgary. A number of speakers are going to talk about heritage landscapes that have been lost or forgotten. Fort Calgary, itself, was one of those landscapes. For many years the site that had given rise to our city had been a railway yard. It wasn’t until 1974 that the value of this site was recognized and efforts made to reclaim it. Fort Calgary CEO Sarah Gruetzner will be speaking at the roundtable about the fort and the recovery of this historic landscape.

Another speaker will be archaeologist Brian Vivian who will talk about the Paskapoo Slopes area. This part of the city, which was actually the western edge of the city while I was growing up, has seen much development over the years. Many folks don’t know the rich history of the area which includes First Nations settlement, including a buffalo jump and processing camp. It is also significant as it is a unique landscape and important wildlife corridor.

Michelle Reid, a City of Calgary landscape architect, will talk about some forgotten streetscapes that have now been added to the Heritage Inventory. These include the Balmoral Circus, a circular park at the intersection of 19th Avenue and 2nd Street NW. The circus appears in the early development plans (you can see it on the detail from the 1907 map below – the whole map can be viewed in our Digital Library ) and is part of the legacy left by William Reader. Its twin, the Beaumont Circus in Renfrew, is also on the Heritage Inventory. These parks are unique in the city and are important in the history of green spaces in Calgary – a feature of the city that makes it such a desirable place to live.

 

map CALG 06

Balmoral Circus from 1907 McNaughton's Map of Calgary

Historical Maps of Calgary and Alberta, CALG 06

If you are interested in finding out more about our forgotten landscapes, join us at the Heritage Roundtable. The link to register is here. As usual, staff from the Community Heritage and Family History department will have a display at the event with items from the Local History collection. Pop by and say "hi".

Something's Happening at the Zoo

by Christine H - 4 Comment(s)

PC 1510

Prehistoric Animals in the Natural History Park at the Calgary Zoo, 1941

Postcards from the Past, PC 1510

The Calgary Zoo recently released its 20 year plan and it really looks ambitious. The President /CEO has said that “twenty years from now, the Calgary Zoo will bear little resemblance to the zoo today.” The prospect is exciting although not without controversy. The function of zoos has changed over the years. When I was a child the animals were kept in cages. In a major redevelopment, the Calgary Zoo built more natural habitats. The Calgary Zoo has changed and adapted over its entire 84 year history and I’m glad to see the tradition continue.

I have mixed feelings, though, about the loss of the dinosaur park. When I was little, the dinosaurs were the most memorable feature (possibly because they frightened the wits out of me).

The dinosaurs have been a fixture at the Calgary Zoo since the 1930s when the Zoological Society’s director returned from Europe filled with enthusiasm about the dinosaur park in Hamburg. A man on a mission, he decided to create a similar natural history park in Calgary. It made complete sense, of course, because we had rich fossil beds and lots of evidence of prehistoric life (barrels of which would come gushing out of the ground at Leduc about 10 years later). To that end, experts were consulted — these models were not going to be horror show beasts — they would be accurate representations of prehistoric life.

A number of sculptors were involved in the realization of these models, with John Kanerva being the most prolific, eventually turning out a large proportion of the park's 56 dinos. The Natural History Park opened officially in 1937, once Dinny, the life sized brontosaurus was completed. The Calgary Daily Herald praised the zoo, in attempting to replicate the “grotesque creatures of the reptilian age which monopolized the world aeons ago” (Aug. 21, 1937). The Natural History Park also incorporated actual fossil specimens as well, which were housed in the Fossil House (see photo below).

While I will be sorry to see the prehistoric park go, I do understand the reasoning behind it. We have a great resource right on our doorstep, at the Tyrell museum in Drumheller and while I have fond memories of the dinosaurs and the fossil houses, I look forward to the future of the Calgary Zoo, still one of the best in the world.

If you are interested in finding out more about the dinosaurs of Calgary, the spring 2013 issue of Alberta History, includes an excellent article by Calgary’s Historian Laureate emeritus, Harry Sanders. You can find the magazine (and lots more besides) in the Local History room at the Central Library.

PC 2013

Fossil House a the Calgary Zoo, ca. 1940s?

Postcards from the Past, PC 2013

Century Homes, 2013

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 80 10

Magnus Brown Residence, 1906 8th Avenue SE in 1963

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 80-10

It is time again for Century Homes. Last year’s project was wildly successful and we’re hoping to see even greater response this year. We have launched the legacy database, which you can view in our Digital Library. This database is a gold mine of information about heritage domestic architecture, typically one of the hardest heritage resources to document and preserve. Large, luxurious old homes, like the McHugh house, attract a lot of attention when they are threatened with demolition, but what of the small homes of everyday people? That is what I found so exciting about the Century Homes project. Calgarians jumped in with both feet to celebrate the everyday history of their communities and it is a wonderful thing. I never tire of telling people that history is not a list of facts and dates, it is the day-to-day life of the average person that is the important history.

We will be joined by experts from the City of Calgary, Corporate Records, Archives and the Glenbow Museum Library to offer our program on researching the history of houses again on May 25th at 2:00 pm. (Register here, in person at your branch or by phone 403+260-2620) This program will be great for anyone wanting to participate in Century Homes, for anyone who is just interested in the history of their house or community or for people who are researching houses as an adjunct to genealogical research. Old houses tell great stories and we will help you coax a story out of yours.

Here is a little story about a house that is no longer with us. This house, at 1306 8th Avenue SE, across from the A.E. Cross house, belonged to Magnus Brown. Magnus was born in Selkirk, Manitoba in 1850. He participated in the Red River Rebellion, fighting against Riel in 1869. He was captured by the Metis but managed to escape. In June 1873 Brown married Letitia Cook from Winnipeg. Brown moved to the Red Deer River District around 1882 where he raised stock. In 1885 the Brown’s relocated to Calgary and Magnus secured contract work with Canadian Pacific Railway for railroad and irrigation construction. He was in charge of the ditch built by the Calgary Irrigation Company. Brown served on city council from 1910 to 1912. He was a devoted member of the Southern Alberta Pioneers and Oldtimers’ Association.

The house was well known for its rhubarb patch, cultivated first by Brown but then by the next owner of the property, a Mr. Laurendeau. He in turn sold it to Mr. Servonnet, who continued to cultivate the patch, but eventually sold the property in 1969. The land was then sold to the city in 1970 and a senior’s residence, called the Rhubarb Patch, stands there.

Elveden House, or, A little bit of Ireland

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

AJ 43 06

Elveden House under construction, 1960

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection AJ 4306

 

I pass it every day on my way to work. It was part of my childhood, being fairly close to where my father worked, and I never knew anything about it. But as I was glancing out of the C-Train window, I noticed the beautiful green panels on the exterior of the building and then checked out the names, Elveden, Guinness and Iveagh. I thought I’d seen Iveagh House in Dublin. What was the connection with the Guinness family, whose products I enjoy every time I travel to visit our family in the Emerald Isle? Seemed like something I should know so I poked around a bit to find out just what was going on.

We have the photo, above, of Elveden house under construction. This is from the Alison Jackson collection (which can be viewed on our digital library). This is usually my first stop when I am looking for building information, as we have put information from the various newspaper articles we have published over the years, as well as other information we have gleaned from various sources. What I found out was that Elveden house was the first skyscraper in Calgary, built in 1959-60 at a cost of 5 million dollars and rising to 20 storeys. Until that time, buildings had been limited by law to 12 storeys in height. The owner of the building was a Guinness subsidiary, British Pacific Building Ltd, which partly explains the Irish allusions. The company built extensively in Canada, one of its projects was the Lions Gate Bridge.

On October 14, 1960, Viscount Elveden (Arthur Francis Benjamin Guinness, the grandson of the Earl of Iveagh – there are all my answers regarding names) officiated at the cornerstone laying ceremony for the main tower. Mayor Hays placed a box of records in the stone which included the Guinness Book of Records, an architect's drawing of Elveden House, pictures of Calgary, coins, local newspapers and magazines and a couple of bottles of Guinness. Hays called the building a landmark that would be “distinctly visible mark on Calgary’s skyline.” Motifs of the hexagon, which I noticed on the panels on the façade of the building, are repeated throughout the building as are harps and angels, which represent the Irish source of the Guinness fortune. Rumours were flying when the Earl of Iveagh visited Canada in 1949 that the building project they would undertake would be a Guinness brewery, which would have been great. But instead they chose to put up office towers. I found some newspaper clippings in our files which were written as construction was underway. The descriptions of the amenities of the building sound very cutting edge for the time. For example, workspaces were flexible and the glass on the south side was tinted, to allow natural light into all the offices. In addition, 70% of the materials used to build the structure were Canadian made.

Two other towers were built over the next few years; Iveagh House (called the British American Oil Building for its tenant) which went up in 1960-61 and Guinness House, which was built in 1964. Among the clippings was the information I was dying to learn – what is the correct pronunciation of Elveden? An equally curious reader posed this question to the Calgary Herald in 1962 and their sleuthing turned up the pronunciation “Elden” in one of those weird quirks of pronunciation, the likes of which have given us “wustershire” sauce. Apparently, the pronunciation “elvden” is OK but “elVEEden” is just not on. Who knew?

AJ 62 15

Calgary Skyscrapers, with Elveden House in the background, 1962

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, 1962

 

Hospitals in Calgary

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Mountview home for girls

Mountview Home For Girls, 1958

From The Calgary Herald, March 8, 1958

I was doing a bit of research for a customer on a hospital in Calgary that I had no idea had existed. A little digging turned up the bit of information the customer needed, but in the process I discovered a whole whack of hospitals that had existed in Calgary that I had not heard of. The big hospitals are well documented; we have tons of information on the General and the Holy Cross as well as the newer hospitals such as the Foothills and the Lougheed. But what I didn’t realize was that there were smaller hospitals and hospital units scattered throughout the city.

I suppose it’s a bit of a cliché to say that things were different at the turn of the 20th century, but sometimes I’m not sure I realize just how different. I am sometimes shocked as I go through early newspapers at the things I find.

One that I find particularly unsettling is the advertising of children for adoption – I still can’t wrap my head around that one. The other is the prevalence of disease. I suppose we know, intellectually, that the city would not have been a clean place, that there were no antibiotics and that water wasn’t always clean. In many cases, the response to illness was to isolate the infectious person – that was the case with smallpox, tuberculosis and typhoid, for example. As late as 1912, hospitals had to turn away people with contagious diseases, as there wasn’t sufficient isolation space for them.

The hospital I was looking at was built in response to the need for more isolation units. The land was purchased in 1913 with plans to build a smallpox isolation hospital and a typhoid and/or tuberculosis hospital. The Mount View Hospital and its neighbour, the smallpox hospital, were built on 16th Avenue NE in 1914. Shortly after it opened, a fire broke out in the linen room. The intrepid “lady superintendent” immediately responded, only to have the fire pump break. Not to be so easily defeated, she organized a bucket brigade and had the flames doused by the time the firemen arrived.

By 1916 Mount View was housing returned soldiers who were suffering from TB. There was a bit of a scandal in 1917 when the number of eggs given to the patients was cut back. Apparently the treatment for TB was as much milk and eggs (often raw) that a patient could hold. The reduction provoked an outcry and sparked some very interesting letters to the editor. To get to the nub of the matter, the Calgary Daily Herald launched an investigation and found that the treatment of patients in the hospital was up to and even surpassed treatment in other sanitaria. The patients were fed very well, but since more recent research had proved that an unlimited diet of milk and eggs was not necessarily the best, the cut to the diet was reasonable. The reporter also found that several patients were being accommodated on the newly built porch (this was November, and part of the treatment for TB was exposure to cold, fresh air) and others were accommodated in tents on the site. There were also three padded rooms in the basement for “mentally deranged” patients. (CDH Nov 3 1917, p12)

By the 20s Mount View had become a home for delinquent girls, run by the United Church. I'm not sure what constituted delinquency, but the home stayed open until 1958.

Gardens, Historic and Not

by Christine H - 2 Comment(s)

PC 1498

Residential View, Calgary

Postcards from the Past, PC 1498

I saw Janet Melrose on the morning news today. She's Calgary's Cottage Gardener, and Garden Animator at the Calgary Horticultural Society and she was saying that it is too early to go out and start mucking about in the garden. (Not that we’d want to today; I see snow out the window).

But if you are interested in gardens and would like a little taste of what our ancestors contrived to grow, you can join Janet May 7 at Central for a look at some of Calgary’s historic gardens. While it is hard to believe that we can even grow grass in this climate, Calgarians have always been garden lovers and have been willing to brave the disappointments and disasters that come with our weather, in order to celebrate the hard-won successes.

I love gardens and have written before about the Brewery Gardens which started as a project to make work for A.E. Cross’s employees during the Depression, and ended up as a beautiful park, complete with aquarium. It is one of my earliest memories of a garden but that may have had more to do with the fish ponds than the plants.

There was also a garden next to the old train station on 9th Avenue. It would have been about where the Calgary Tower stands now. The railroad was actually responsible for a great many gardens across the prairies. They had land to sell and a good way to encourage people to settle in what might have seemed an inhospitable climate, was to cultivate gardens beside the stations to exhibit just what could be accomplished. The CPR garden in Calgary was more like a park, possibly designed to give travelers a little bit of air on the long journey west (like the dog walking area at the airport, maybe) It was the city’s first public park, opened in 1891. We have a strange little postcard of a lady and her dog at the fountain in the park. It had been hand tinted by someone with a very sketchy sense of colour (see below). Edwinna Von Baeyer’s indispensable history of gardening in Canada, Rhetoric and Roses includes information about the railway garden movement. We have a copy in the Local History room.

 

PC 658

CPR Park, Calgary ca. 1907

Postcards from the Past, PC 658

The picture at the top of this post shows a view of a beautiful Japanese style garden somewhere in Mount Royal. I think this may have been John Burns’ garden, behind his home on Prospect Avenue. Burns had the garden developed some time after he moved in to the home in 1928.

Some more modern gardens are in the news. I am thinking particularly of Century Gardens, developed to celebrate the city’s centennial in 1975 and built in a brutalist style. On May 4 at 4 p.m. there will be a Jane’s Walk of Century Gardens which will include a parkour demonstration. The garden seems built for this kind of pursuit and the tour and demo will be great, I’m sure. For more information check out the website.

To register for Janet’s program on Tuesday May 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library you can contact us at 403-260-2620, register online or in person at your local branch.

 

Heritage Matters: Invisible People and Places 50s and 60s Calgary

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

 

AJ 25 08


Alberta Block, 1958

Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 25-08

The telling of Calgary’s history tends to focus on the ranchers and oilmen, and establishments that they represented. A lot of history gets overlooked and very often these hidden histories tell us more about ourselves than mainstream history does. Lucky for us, historians are nosy folk, and what was hidden is increasingly being exposed.

Our next Heritage Matters program will do just that. Kevin Allen, who is part of the Gay Calgary Research Project, will present Invisible People and Places in 1950s and 1960s Calgary May 3rd at the Central Library, uncovering the history of Calgary’s gay and lesbian community as it struggled to find its place in the post-war city.

Young people today may be shocked to learn that until 1969 it was actually illegal to “engage in homosexual activity.” Doing so could land a person in prison. Even when the government changed the laws, people with “different” sexual orientations were still the victims of harassment and violence. For these reasons, among others, the history of this segment of our society has been driven underground. Kevin and his colleagues are working to change that. You can see more of the project on their website.

Heritage Matters is presented by the Calgary Heritage Authority, The City of Calgary Land Use Planning and Policy and the Calgary Public Library. It is going to be a very popular presentation, so make sure you register either online, by telephone at 403-260-2620 or in person at your local library branch.

Kevin is also going to be hosting a Jane’s Walk the very next day, May 4. He will be conducting a tour of the Beltline area, looking at sites that were significant to the gay and lesbian community in the 1960s and 70s.

CHACPL LogoLand Use

A Farewell Party for a Sunnyside Street

by Christine H - 3 Comment(s)

 

 

PC 1936

819 5th Avenue NW, ca 1914

Postcards from the Past, PC_1935

I never like to see old houses demolished. I was especially sad to see that one of the Sunnyside homes on 5th Avenue slated for demolition is one we are very familiar with, number 819. We have images of that house and of a family that lived there in our Community Heritage and Family History Digital Library. We were so attracted to the postcards that we created a presentation designed to highlight just how much information can be found with only a few little clues. We called it “Ancestors and Their Attics” and presented it during Historic Calgary Week. We started with the postcard above which had the names Felix, Jo and Eva and “taken in July 1914 at Calgary” written on the back. With that little bit of information we were able to track down another card with the last name of the family, who lived at 819 5 Avenue NW for a brief time between 1914 and 1915.

We were able to spin that information into a bit of a family narrative. Felix was a railway man. At the time the family lived in Calgary, he was working at the powerhouse behind the new Palliser Hotel. The way we found that was by searching for photos to use to illustrate the CPR, where Felix said he worked in the 1916 census. In searching, we found the picture of the powerhouse with “Where Felix Worked” written in the same hand as on the other postcard. The cards had been acquired years apart. Using this we followed the family to North Carolina, where Felix continued to work on the railroad, moving through the ranks to brakeman (as listed on his 1917 US draft registration card) eventually becoming an locomotive engineer. Jo and Eva were both born in Kansas, but Felix’s place of birth remains an enigma to us. That he was registered to vote in Calgary (we found his name in a municipal voters list) suggests he was Canadian but some documents say he was born in France. The family had lived in the States, they were there for the 1910 census, moved to Calgary for a brief time, and then back to the States by 1917, when Felix was required to register for the draft.

 

PC 694

"Where Felix Worked" (CPR Powerhouse)

Postcards from the Past, PC_694

The family was renting the house. We know this because the owner of the house is listed in the tax assessment records for 1911 (the year the house was built) as David Hambly, who was a contractor. He also appears in the 1911 census at 819 with his wife Isabella, his son Harry and daughter Kathleen as well as his father James, who was also a contractor. In 1911 their neighbours were Robert Wilkinson and his family in 817, William Edward (?) and his wife in 817a (the back of the house) and then Hugh McPherson, all the way down the street at 827. It looks like 823 and 825 were not yet completed or weren’t occupied.

Sunnyside was a growing community back in 1911 and in a way, these houses are providing a home, albeit on the verge of their demise, for another community. Wreck City is a project that has devised a way to say a glorious farewell to these old homes. By installing artists in each of the houses, the final days of these old dears will be marked with beauty and invention. As I say, we never want to say goodbye to these old homes, but if we must, let it be with a party. Check out the Wreck City website for information about the houses and their artists and join in the farewell party.

819 Kayla

819 as it is today

Photo courtesy Kayla McAlister

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